Outlook 2010: Racquets
Despite the tough economy, manufacturers are fired up about their racquet offerings.
Even though some 30 million Americans are playing tennis these days according to the Tennis Industry Association and USTA, these recession-wary consumers seem to be hanging on to their old racquets longer, just like they’re trying to squeeze more mileage out of their cars. Racquet manufacturers have apparently taken heed, and are giving these folks nervous about the economy a reason to trade in Old Faithful for one of the new wave of hybrid racquets — or “‘twixt sticks” — that fall in between pricy game-improvement frames and player racquets. Many have suggested retail prices below $200.
Hybrid racquets dominate this spring’s new offerings. They blend the game-improvement frames with their jumbo hitting areas, light weights, power-producing wide beams and head-heavy balances with player sticks characterized by narrow beams, substantial weights and smaller heads.
They appeal to the widest range of premium-racquet buying player levels, those in the 3.0 and 4.0 NTRP range. The frames are characterized by mid-level stationary weights from 10.4 to 11.4 ounces, providing adequate mass to overpower the incoming ball. And they have 98- to 102-square-inch hitting areas and slightly head-light balance points that come close to the stability, control and maneuverability of player sticks.
Best of all, they have enlarged prime hitting areas — sweetspots — and have greatly diminished the dead areas around the outer frame, giving players with medium to long swings more true bounce, power and comfort of the old 108-square-inch jumbos.
“The economy has had a dramatic effect on the expensive big-headed game-improvement racquets,” says Paul Kid, General Manager of Tecnifibre USA. “And at the same time, technology has progressed so you’ve got stiffer materials that can give players power without resorting to the big head.”
The racquet brands accomplish this in different ways — from more creature-comfort materials built into the frames themselves (Wilson’s new BLX made from volcanic ash fibers called basalt, Dunlop’s Aerogel, Head’s MicroGEL and Babolat’s Tungsten), to creating more string movement to cradle the ball and catapult it off the string bed (Prince’s EXO3, Volkl’s Big Grommets and Yonex’s S-Fit technologies).
The hybrid really took off with the Andy Roddick endorsed Babolat Pure Drive and Rafael Nadal’s Aeropro Drive in the 2000s. The Aeropro Drive, introduced in 2004, is still the best-selling racquet at tennis specialty stores, according to the latest figures from the TIA.
For this spring, you can expect the new half-inch longer version of the Aeropro Drive (the GT Plus) to fly off the shelves, along with these contenders: The Head YouTek Extreme MP, the Prince EXO3 White 100, the Tecnifibre T-Flash 300 Speed Flex, the Boris Becker DC Sportster, the Volkl Powerbridge 5, the Wilson Pro Open BLX and the Yonex S-Fit 1 Light.
In addition to the hybrids, player frames this spring will include the Boris Becker DC Pro, Dunlop Aerogel 4D2Hundred Tour, Gamma Tour 340X, Head YouTek Prestige Pro, Mid and MP, Tecnifibre Flash 315 Speed Flex, Wilson Six.One Tour BLX, Wilson Pro Tour BLX and Wilson Tour BLX.
While their presence is diminishing, game-improvement racquets this spring will be represented by the Boris Becker DC Power, Volkl Powerbridge 2 and Wilson Cirrus One BLX. And entering the market this year will be racquets from string-maker Pacific, which took over Fischer last fall and is introducing the Pacific X Force Pro, it’s top player frame, and the Raptor, among other frames.
— Bill Gray